E-books, paperback, hardback… books come in all shapes and sizes, yet publishers are turning to short form audio-visual texts to promote products. Variously called booktalks, vidlits, book trailers, and commercials, these texts conceptually if not technically, animate the product within a different medium; articulating the concept of the book outside any medium-specific boundaries. In re-presenting the elements of a product in different medium, trailers emphasise and omit certain elements, considered to be important to consumer decision making. But first, let’s back up a bit.
The earliest known reference to a ‘book trailer’ is in 2001 when Blab Media Inc. launched an e-greeting card that they marketed as a book ‘trailer‘ to promote Ann Rice’s novel Merrick. While that trailer is unavailable today, it set the stage for a new wave of book promotion. In 2002 the term ‘book trailer’ was trademarked as ‘promoting the goods of others by preparing and creating advertisements for books in the form of videos’ (USPTO.gov). In 2006 and 2007 respectively The Penguin Group and Harper Collins launched YouTube channels to host content including book trailers, with Harper Collins creating an in-house production company specifically for the purpose (Movlic.com). The rationale behind these trailers is simple, to create a highly mobile short-form text that can be broadcast and shared by audiences in a variety of circumstances. These trailers though largely confined to the internet; specifically YouTube channels, are occasionally broadcast on UK television and operate under the label ‘advert’. Irrespective of the titles, these promotional texts have diverse aesthetic forms and all animate some aspect of ‘the book’. Though, as Lindsey Irvine asks:
Isn’t using animation to advertise a book a little like using sculpture to promote poetry? Most still use the authors’ words, but are they using the film and animation to suggest the rest of the advertised text – or somehow enhancing what’s there in the book? (Irvine 2012)
Consider the differences between Patrick Ness’ ‘A Monster Calls ‘(2011) and Jacqueline Wilson’s ‘Lily Alone’ (2011).
Aesthetically different forms of promotion; both allude to a product representing it on screen, and in doing so comment upon the kinds of experiences each book may provide. Recently, Daniel Hesford noted that trailers can be primarily considered performative, recreating the concept of a product that may or may not actually exist (2013). While here, neither replicates the narrative or physical form of the books promoted, thematically they perform elements of the product. Like them or loath them, from an intellectual perspective these trailers raise many questions, but perhaps they also offer a unique insight into how the industry sees itself, its products and its audiences. Book trailers are promotional forms that animate concepts from within a novel. Yet cover art has done this for centuries, should these trailers be considered an extension of that?
Hesford, Daniel (2013) ”Action… Suspense… Emotion!': The Trailer as Cinematic Performance.’ Frames Cinema Journal. http://framescinemajournal.com/article/action-suspense-emotion-the-trailer-as-cinematic-performance/
Irvine, Lindsey, (2012) From Page to Screen, The Rise of the book trailer. Guardian.co.uk
Movlic.com (2011) ‘Seen Any Good Books Lately’ Check it Out Magazine #3 Spring Issue.
USPTO.gov (2002) ‘Book Trailer’ Serial Number 78178966 Filed 2002, October 28th. US Patent and Trademark Office.
Ed Vollans is a final year Doctoral candidate at the University of East Anglia. His thesis explores the promotional trailer in contemporary entertainment culture; he has previously work as a film industry journalist in Mumbai, and studied at the Universities of Edinburgh, and Aberystwyth.